Select Mint State 1921 Double Eagle
1921 $20 MS63 PCGS. Collectors are most familiar with the
1921 double eagle as a major melt rarity, released only in dribs
and drabs and never found in quantity in the collectible era. What
is not so well known is that the 1921 double eagle almost was not
produced at all, and its creation and the survival of a relative
handful of specimens derive from a complex sequence of events.
Famous Start-of-Decade Melt Rarity
The 1920s were bookended by a pair of economic depressions. The second, the Great Depression, is far more famous and linked to the late-date Saint-Gaudens double eagles from 1929 on, all of which were heavily melted and difficult to obtain today in varying degrees. At the start of the 1920s, however, the United States was experiencing an economic downturn following World War I. As seen with other major wars, when the period of wartime production ended, a series of shocks hit the economy: manufacturers of tin-hats and M1903 Springfield rifles saw their orders plummet, for example, and formerly conscripted soldiers returned to civilian life, resulting in a glut of labor and the failure of many men to find work right away.
With the slowdown in business activity came a corresponding decrease in the demand for coinage. Low-mintage dates abound up and down the denominations in U.S. coinage between 1919 and 1921, particularly for dimes and half dollars, but gold production too was affected. The 1921 double eagles, for example, were not struck until the last two months of the year, as the government had no need of the coins themselves as circulating money, nor as backing for an issuance of Federal Reserve notes redeemable in gold, until the depression was over.
The 1920 double eagles too were struck as part of the "Reserve Funds," kept separate or "under seal," as noted in correspondence between Dr. Thomas Louis Comparette, keeper of the Philadelphia Mint Cabinet, and the custodians of the Connecticut State Library collection of U.S. Coins, first original owner Joseph P. Mitchelson and later Connecticut State Librarian George S. Godard. (Excerpts from their letters appear in Roger W. Burdette's Renaissance of American Coinage series.)
Burdette writes: "The 1920 $20 coins were eventually released into circulation; however the 1921 pieces were retained in treasury vaults as Reserve Funds until they were melted during the mid-1930s. The 1921 double eagle remains one of the great rarities of the Saint-Gaudens series." It is worth noting that from 1922 until 1928, none of the Philadelphia issues is a prime rarity; in fact, dates such as the 1924, 1927, and 1928 are synonymous with type collecting. Only the 1921 double eagle, struck only to balance the Treasury's books and never meant to be seen by the public, stands out among the Philadelphia issues of the early to middle 1920s.
The 1921 double eagle is scarce in the aggregate and a condition rarity in Mint State, owing to the unusual pattern (in this gold series) of circulated coins making up a significant proportion of survivors. As an MS63 representative, this Select coin falls just outside the uppermost tier of survivors but provides a plenty rare prize for the dedicated Saint-Gaudens enthusiast. Striking softness on torch-hand and foot is as often seen for the issue, while softly frosted yellow-gold luster adds tints of peach and orange. The reverse is pleasingly preserved by MS63 standards, but the obverse has a grade-defining diagonal cut on the left (facing) side of the gown and smaller marks elsewhere. Nonetheless, the eye appeal is strong on the whole, making this a valuable survivor sure to be chased by collectors. Population: 10 in 63, 7 finer (11/12).(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 26G2, PCGS# 9172)
Weight: 33.44 grams
Metal: 90% Gold, 10% Copper
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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Revised Edition by James L. Halperin, Mark R. Borckardt, Mark Van Winkle, Jon Amato, and Gregory J. Rohan, with special contributor David W. Akers
The Coinage of Augustus Saint-Gaudens is an issue-by-issue examination of these two artistically inspired series of gold coins.
Each date and mintmark is reviewed with up-to-date information, much of which has never been previously published. The book is based on
two extraordinary collections: The Phillip H. Morse collection and the Dr. and Mrs. Steven L. Duckor collection.
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